Benjamin Walker on ‘The Rings of Power,’ Toxic Fans, and King Gil-galad’s Battle for Peace

For Benjamin Walker, the towering musical theater actor, landing the role of Gil-galad on The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power was a childhood dream come true.According to Walker, the first “big-boy book” his older brother gave him to read was The Hobbit, and the two used to play their own version of

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For Benjamin Walker, the towering musical theater actor, landing the role of Gil-galad on The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power was a childhood dream come true.

According to Walker, the first “big-boy book” his older brother gave him to read was The Hobbit, and the two used to play their own version of The Lord of the Rings as kids running around the woods of Georgia, with Walker usually crawling around on his hands and knees as Gollum. Gil-galad, of course, is a far cry from Gollum. On the Amazon Prime Video prequel series, whose first season cost a record $465 million to produce, his is the last High King of the Noldor, a prominent division of elves. His exploits are described in The Silmarillion, a collection of short stories by J.R.R. Tolkien set in the world of The Lord of Rings that forms the basis of The Rings of Power. On the show, Gil-galad’s elven people are enjoying a time of peace—though Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), “the mightiest and fairest” of the elves, is on the hunt for Sauron and his dark army of orcs.

It is, at 40 years of age, the biggest project of Walker’s career—one that’s seen him play Andrew Jackson and Patrick Bateman on Broadway, as well as the villain Erik Gelden in Jessica Jones and the titular slayer in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. And Walker, who is married to the actress Kaya Scodelario, had a blast filming the sprawling series in New Zealand.

“It was profound. The Kiwi people welcomed us and embraced us like family,” he says, adding, “It’s like… if you saw a unicorn walk by, you wouldn’t be surprised. It’s a magical place. And their love of each other, respect for each other, and respect for their land I’ll carry with me forever.”

Although our chat occurred in August, prior to racist fans’ attacks on the show’s characters of color and Elon Musk’s incel-like criticisms, Walker touched on why toxic fans have no business being in The Lord of the Rings universe and what it has been like starring in the grandest TV show ever.

So this is a pretty big deal.

Yeah! Part of my job is saying how good things are no matter how good they are, but this one’s actually incredibly good, so it’s a very easy job.

I saw the first two episodes and was impressed by the scope and world-building.

Dude, it just gets better, and better, and better.

How much of a Lord of the Rings nerd were you before taking on Rings of Power?

When I was a kid—I have an older brother and he’s an avid reader who’s infinitely more intelligent than I’ll ever be, and the first big-boy book he ever gave me was The Hobbit. He introduced me to The Lord of the Rings and that’s what we’d play in the woods. I have that familial connection. So my gateway was the books. Luckily for us, the foundation of what we’re doing is based on the source material. I basically get paid to read Tolkien. It’s great.

Who would you be when you played Lord of the Rings in the woods with your brother?

Gollum.

Really?

Yeah! [Laughs] Just an animal crawling around on all fours with bloody knees.

That’s incredible. So I imagine the pressure was on with this series when you’re following up what Peter Jackson created with his films. Did you have any apprehension about that?

My line about the pressure is: Pressure is how you make a diamond. It’s not a bad thing. Nobody puts as much pressure on us as we do ourselves, so no. Tolkien’s universe is dense enough and beautiful enough to support different iterations of it, so I welcome the pressure. We want to do it as well as the people who love it want us to do it. I mean, we’re fans. It’s not an us and them thing.

What was it like shooting during the pandemic? Did that introduce any obstacles?

We were in New Zealand, so we had a little more freedom than the rest of the world. Amazon is really COVID-conscious and wanted to keep everyone healthy and safe. The good side of it was that the cast as a whole was isolated from their families, homes, and friends, so we had this bond where we actually really like each other and know each other very well. Our kids play together, and we feel like this strong unit, which the show kind of needs.

Were there cliques? Were, say, the elves all hanging out together and so on?

No, we all mixed! Although a couple of days ago I found out about a Númenórean chat that I’m not on, which kind of pissed me off. [Laughs] You know… the frailty of man.

Although a couple of days ago I found out about a Númenórean chat that I’m not on, which kind of pissed me off.

I know the show has a five-season order, so how long are you committed to it?

I don’t want to give anything away, but it was certainly daunting for a commitment this large—for your family, your time, and the amount of work and dedication it requires. But I had a phone call with J.D. [Payne] early on and he was pitching me his vision for the show, and I couldn’t hear him properly on the phone because there was this loudspeaker in the background. I go, “J.D., I’m struggling to hear you… where are you?” He goes, “I’m in a hospital.” I go, “Are you OK?” He’s like, “My wife just had a baby. But Gil-galad…” I’m thinking, man, if he’s that committed the least I can do is get on a plane.

Did you reach out to any of the OG cast of Lord of the Rings for advice on this one?

No, I haven’t. But you know what I have done? For example, Silmarillion is a very dense read, and the fans and the fandom have been really helpful. I found a guy online who created a graphic novel of Silmarillion and used it as a Cliff’s Notes guide for the book. It was nice to cross-pollinate between the work and people who love the work.

Can you describe Gil-galad for me and where the character is going?

Gil-galad is kind of two people: He’s a peacetime consigliere and a warrior-general. He’s an elder elf and one of the elves that chose to remain in Middle-earth instead of returning to Valinor. He’s tasked with shepherding Middle-earth through peace and into the future. And when we meet him in the beginning it’s a time of peace, which for him, with all the experience he has, makes him very uneasy. There’s a Thomas Jefferson quote: “The price of peace and justice is constant vigilance.” I think he definitely lives by that code.

Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker), Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), and Elrond (Robert Aramayo) in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

Prime Video

And he certainly has a complicated relationship with Galadriel.

I think he understands her but… she makes him nervous.

You’ve now played Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and an elven king. I’m curious what you think it is about you that gets you cast as men of great stature and power.

[Laughs] I don’t know! I guess I’ve never thought of it. They’re all very complicated leaders. They all wore their burden differently. But… I don’t know! Maybe I’m tall? I don’t know. People tend to give actors too much ownership over their careers. They think we’re turning down thousands of jobs. I’ve just been lucky to work with great people.

Do you think Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson could get made today?

I don’t know. Largely because it’s about populism, I think it would be poignant today. Andrew Jackson in some ways was the original Donald Trump, so I think people need to study his legacy. And that [emo] music still holds up.

Were there ever plans to make more Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter?

Um… there’s definitely that point at the end where you question whether or not he’s become a vampire, but I think at this point it’ll just have to live on in the minds of the fans. It’s a shame… I think they should! I’d watch it.

The Lord of the Rings fandom has historically been a fount of positivity compared to other fandoms.

Tolkien’s stories are about hope overcoming evil—about light rooting out the dark—and those stories can exist in fantasy, so I definitely understand why it’s so universally loved.

Every fan base has toxic elements to it, although it seems like Lord of the Rings’ isn’t quite as bad as, say, some of the Star Wars fans.

Well, I hope not. Tolkien’s whole premise is that the only way Middle-earth can survive is that these diverse and disparate societies have to work together. That’s the premise of the show. If you understand that from the books or from the films, it would be a real shame if you found something negative about it.

That is indeed a nice message—and one this country could certainly use right now.

And given how isolated people feel. If you open one of Tolkien’s books or a history book, any society that isolates themselves from a global community and a global market festers and dies on the vine. So it’s nice that we can see these stories depicted and that there is hope.

I read that you’re 6-foot-3. What’s it like to be a tall-ass dude in Hollywood? Everyone is so short.

[Laughs] I’m just lucky to have work! Every once in a while, you’ll have somebody who has to stand on a box. But when you talk about scale work, the dimensions of people are played with so much that you’ll never know.

The Lord of the Rings is a pretty bucket list-type job. Is there anything else you’re keen to conquer besides playing an elven king in a sprawling Tolkien series?

I’m excited to get back onstage, whenever that happens. We’re doing the press tour for Season 1 and preproduction for Season 2, and that demands my full attention right now. And frankly, I’m more than happy to give it.

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